April may be National Volunteer Month, but for Shane and Pam Brown, volunteering is a year-round endeavor. The duo holds a variety of charitable roles in Sauk Centre and the surrounding communities, especially as site leaders for Ruby’s Pantry.

The Browns have been Sauk Centre residents for about 15 years, 11 of which have been spent as site leaders for Ruby’s Pantry, a surplus food distribution service. In fact, they are the ones responsible for bringing the program to Sauk Centre; they found out about Ruby’s Pantry while visiting Pam’s parents in Cumberland, Wisconsin, so when they returned home, they looked into organizing a distribution site.

In order to bring Ruby’s Pantry to Sauk Centre, the Browns contacted the organization’s founder, Lyn Sahr.

“We checked with Lyn Sahr, and he was like, ‘Funny thing, we’ve been thinking and praying about getting one in Sauk Centre,’” Pam said. “It was perfect timing, so that’s what we did. We needed it, so if we needed it, maybe somebody else did too.”

The Browns also had friends who were low-income and looking for less expensive groceries. Pam and Shane got the organization going with the help of Sauk Centre’s River of Life Church. Their original board consisted of themselves and the secretary at River of Life Church, Beth Masog.

“Then we started realizing there were other branches we needed to do, so we started filling those spots,” Shane said. “We went from having the three of us on the board to 11, and everybody has their specific area that they’re in charge of.”

Ruby’s Pantry has 82 distribution sites across Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Browns started their distribution days by giving out shares which were about the size of a laundry basket, and today, those shares have nearly doubled in size.

The Browns also help with other ministries within Ruby’s Pantry. Through the moving ministry, they gather the trucks and manpower to help people who cannot afford moving services. They have a clothing ministry to find bargain items to donate to people who could not otherwise afford them; they once tracked down some premature infant clothing for a no-income family who had their baby early.

“If people don’t have it, they’re willing to buy it,” Pam said. “We had one family who brought out homemade diapers and wipes for that family, and another one gave a huge tote of baby clothes.”

The Browns usually find the clothing they need by looking in places like Facebook Marketplace or by putting out a notice to their network. The same is true for their furniture ministry; they have found items from washers, dryers and dressers to breast pumps and vehicles.

One problem the Browns have faced is the stigma that Ruby’s Pantry services are only for people who have little to no income.

“It’s another way of buying groceries,” Shane said. “I tell people, ‘If you accepted the stimulus check, you should be coming to get these groceries.’”

Thanks to 2020, the Browns have seen an increase in people coming to their food distribution days on the first Saturday of every month. While they used to get around 300 people per distribution day, that average has increased to about 400. They once had 760 people come, the highest they have seen so far, and have needed to organize backup distribution days to get food to people who arrived after their stock ran out. Based on this increase, the Browns are working on increasing their food shipments from one truckload to two, about 600 food shares at a minimum.

The Browns’ volunteer work goes beyond Ruby’s Pantry as well. In late March, they were made the Salvation Army’s client representatives for half of Stearns County, further spreading their charitable network. They work with the Paynesville, Melrose, Sauk Centre and Long Prairie schools for collections of hats, coats, gloves, boots, mittens and more.

Shane recently began keeping track of how much time he puts into volunteer work; in March, he clocked in over 50 hours. He is also employed at his brother’s construction business, Brown’s Construction in Paynesville.

Pam is involved with Meals on Wheels in Sauk Centre, delivering meals once or twice a month, and helps coordinate the River of Life nursery. She also babysits and takes people out for coffee to give them a chance to decompress.

“That’s pretty much my job, volunteering,” Pam said. “I help wherever needed.”

The Browns would like to start a community assistance and learning center, a place where people can come to learn skills for interviewing, accounting or basic living, and they could also receive financial or emotional assistance.

One of the Browns’ favorite things about volunteer work is watching how one act of kindness can spread throughout a community. People who have been past recipients of their help have often come back with recommendations of others who need assistance.

“It hasn’t just become River of Life Church that’s doing this, it hasn’t just become Ruby’s Pantry; it’s become the whole community,” Pam said. “It’s so fun to see people step up and help out.”

The Browns are grateful for everyone who joins them to help, especially the 30 to 60 people who volunteer at each Ruby’s Pantry distribution day. Not only do volunteers spread the scope of their charitable activities and make the work go smoother, but it also takes the Browns out of the spotlight.

“I never want it to be the Shane and Pam Show,” Shane said. “We want it to grow as big as it can possibly go. There’s always room for more people to volunteer.”